Unseen players shape benthic competition on coral reefs

Trends Microbiol. 2012 Dec;20(12):621-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2012.08.004. Epub 2012 Sep 1.


Recent work has shown that hydrophilic and hydrophobic organic matter (OM) from algae disrupts the function of the coral holobiont and promotes the invasion of opportunistic pathogens, leading to coral morbidity and mortality. Here we refer to these dynamics as the (3)DAM [dissolved organic matter (DOM), direct contact, disease, algae and microbes] model. There is considerable complexity in coral-algae interactions; turf algae and macroalgae promote heterotrophic microbial overgrowth of coral, macroalgae also directly harm the corals via hydrophobic OM, whereas crustose coralline algae generally encourage benign microbial communities. In addition, complex flow patterns transport OM and pathogens from algae to downstream corals, and direct algal contact enhances their delivery. These invisible players (microbes, viruses, and OM) are important drivers of coral reefs because they have non-linear responses to disturbances and are the first to change in response to perturbations, providing near real-time trajectories for a coral reef, a vital metric for conservation and restoration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / microbiology*
  • Anthozoa / virology
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Biota*
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Microbial Interactions*
  • Organic Chemicals / metabolism
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Seawater / virology
  • Seaweed / growth & development
  • Seaweed / metabolism
  • Viruses / growth & development


  • Organic Chemicals